Caution: Spoilers for Downton Abbey’s series finale, which aired Sunday night, follow.
Downton Abbey ended for American audiences Sunday night with much wiping of tears, happy gasps, and worries about the fictional future lives of these fictional people.
The finale gave nearly every character a happy ending and tied up plot lines in the frame of Lady Edith’s wedding to Bertie Pelham, something fans and Edith’s own family never thought would happen.
Her marriage seemed to end an era and open a new one, inspiring everyone at Downton Abbey to sew up their own lives. Stories were either wrapped up or their happy conclusion implied: Lady Mary and her new baby, Isobel and Lord Merton’s marriage, and Mr. Moseley’s new teaching job in the former category, and the blooming love between Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason and Daisy and Andy’s awkward courtship in the latter.
Downton Abbey’s finale was full of heartwarming moments and kind words between the characters, but the most touching plot line has to be the redemption of the once-sinister footman turned butler Thomas Barrow.
Throughout Series 6, rife as usual with romantic drama, social commentary, and comical intrigues, Barrow’s heart-breaking arc served as perhaps the most touching storyline.
Although tonight comes with great sadness, there is also much to celebrate; tears, laughter, loss and accomplishments, all of which we have shared together. Will you join Team Servants in raising a toast to Downton Abbey, which, after all, is forever in our hearts. #Downton #DowntonAbbey #TheFinalSeries
Barrow has always been Downton Abbey’s most interesting and layered character. He began the series as the minion of O’Brien, Lady Cora’s nasty lady’s maid, hatching plots and schemes, trying to sabotage Mr. Bates, and behaving in a generally snide and unpleasant manner.
As an amusing round-up of Downton Abbey’s most despicable characters from Vulture detailed, Thomas pretended to be a war hero, sold food on the black market, stole his Lordship’s dog, bullied Miss Baxter, and ratted out poor Gwen as a housemaid during luncheon, among other crimes.
But at the core of Downton Abbey’s most despicable character was this undeniable fact: Barrow was as vicious to some people as he was selflessly kind to others.
Despite his vitriol, it was often hard to hate Barrow too much. He saved Edith in a fire, put Edna Braithwaite in her place when she tried to stir up trouble, taught Andy to read, and his precious interactions with George and Sybbie were enough to make even O’Brien reach for a handkerchief.
Thomas’ story in Downton Abbey’s final season became a focus for its overarching theme: times are changing. The series explored the decline of the English aristocracy and the rise of the working man, and these dynamics played out in the fate of the under butler. After all, what house in the 1920s still had an under butler? Thomas was effectively pushed out of Downton Abbey, a life change that sent him over the edge.
Downton Abbey’s most dramatic, unexpected, and shocking scene (besides Lord Grantham spewing blood across the dinner table) was the discovery of Barrow in the tub, having slashed his wrists. The thought of leaving the abbey and the rejection of his fellow servants had finally become too much to bear.
But Downton Abbey’s finale gave fans a changed Barrow — the man those who loved him best always knew he could be. He learned his lesson and resolved to stop sabotaging his own life, and moved on, with lots of restrained tears, to a new household.
To be sure, the Downton finale had other tear-jerker moments: Lady Edith’s wedding, Bates’ proud statement “I am a father,” and Lord Grantham beaming with pride at his intelligent wife’s accomplishments. But nothing compared to this: the moment Barrow was brought back as butler and allowed to stay at the only place he ever called home.
Thomas Barrow at the start of Downton Abbey and the character at its close are two different men, and that’s the point of storytelling. His transformation has been the most subtle, well-written, and gratifying. And so is the parallel between him and Carson.
The grumpy old butler spent his life at Downton Abbey and became a surrogate father to his beloved Lady Mary. And now Barrow will take up the torch, becoming the forever friend to Master George, Sybbie, and Marigold. After all his missteps and nastiness, the oily and smug boy finally became a man — and found his family.
What did you think of Downton Abbey’s finale?
[Image via Dutourdumonde Photography/Shutterstock]